UIC hoops could be a sleeping giant

Jimmy Collins saw UIC as a sleeping giant before arriving to the program 14 years ago.

The program had touched success, but it had never done it at the highest level. Collins changed that. He convinced a couple local stars -- most notably
Martell Bailey and Cedrick Banks -- to stick around Chicago, surrounded them with competent players and quickly the program took off. Collins awoke the giant, sent it to three NCAA tournaments, one NIT and won 20 or more games four times.

Now as Collins steps away from UIC, others are quick to see what he once did. While UIC hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2004, has hovered around the .500 mark five of the six last years, won just eight games last season and hasn’t attracted much Chicago talent lately, potential coaches look at what Collins was able to accomplish and envision those same possibilities.

They’re asking, “Why can’t UIC be a tournament team again and even emulate what Butler has done in the same conference?”

It’s the reason why some of the biggest up-and-coming assistants in college basketball are already vying for the position. The likes of Illinois assistant coach Jerrance Howard, who is interested in the job, according to a source, and Wisconsin assistant coach Howard Moore, two of the hottest recruiters in the Chicago area, very well could sway a big-name local player to UIC, gather a few other Chicago players, and just like that, UIC could be on the map again.

Right now is the perfect time for UIC to strike, too. The state’s Class of 2011 is one of the deepest and most talented Illinois has seen in some time. While some of the bigger names have already committed and others have their sights on much larger programs, UIC – with the right coach – could interest someone who has been out of the Flames’ league lately.

For example, De La Salle senior guard Dre Henley could be a starting point. Phillip Greene and Macari Brooks could also be possibilities. Former Marshall guard Darius Smith, an UConn transfer, and former Iowa State guard Chris Colvin, an Iowa State transfer, could be persuaded to return home as well.

It may not be fair to call UIC a sleeping giant any longer. Collins rid the program of that. It’s probably more apt to say UIC is a giant that has nodded off and needs to be poked to get going again.